Drawing a Line in the Cheese, p. 3

The cynicism on display in Mamma Mia! made me think once more of Kundera's definition of kitsch, for rather than transporting me to an ideal existence beyond shit it just made me aware of shit. Neither kitsch nor cheese are synonymous with stupid, and the stupidity of the production marred the joy that it was supposed to communicate. I kept thinking of the Matrix, which impressed me with the beauty of its admittedly comic book action. Remember the repetition of the visual motifs of cascading data, water, and spent shell casings? It's a touch of virtuosity on a par with Townshend's windmilling guitar playing or the complex arrangements on Dolly Parton's recent blue grass album. Unnecessary but oh so good. Even Mamma Mia!'s format, a vehicle that combines otherwise unrelated songs, can be done well. Alain Resnais' 1998 film On Connait La Chanson did the same thing, only he bothered to enclose lip-synched French pop hits within a well-written, well acted, and thoroughly charming comedy. I enjoyed it despite the fact that I knew none of the songs and had to have all of the inside jokes explained to me, and to judge from the reactions of my native informants Resnais' settings made the songs more enjoyable and more fun.

Ultimately, Mamma Mia! did nothing more than play to the conventions of cheese accepted unthinkingly by the cheering audience. Perhaps this makes me as much a bougeoisophobe as Flaubert and generations of other modernist critics, for I could not help but notice the uniform luster of the well-healed and well-groomed crowd around me. So here, I thought, I am encountering the tastes of bourgeois America. Surprise me people, I kept thinking, go back to your suburbs and put on some Billy Bragg.

While I refuse to regard the cynicism of the people responsible for Mamma Mia! as anything nearly as sinister as the totalitarianism attacked by Kundera, I am struck by how readily the people in the audience give themselves over to distraction and escape. They don't demand better art because they're content with, well, kitsch. They do not want to think, and consequently they put up with being manipulated. This is why auto-makers could convince so many of them that they need to buy SUVs to manage the hazardous driving conditions of Bethesda, Maryland. This is why Bush and Gore could convince so many people that they had anything of substance to say. This is why, finally, totalitarian regimes could come to power. Evidently pulling a fast one on the bourgeoisie is easy.
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